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Posts Tagged ‘DMU’

German Approach to Regional Passenger Rail

By the late 1980’s, Germany’s regional railroads were in dismal shape. They suffered many of the problems we face in the US — antiquated locomotive-hauled trains, and inefficient operating practices. It seemed inevitable that these lines would either be abandoned, or stagger on with ridiculous subsidies — much like Amtrak.

Then came German reunification, the 1993 railway reform act, and huge changes in the organization of Deutsche Bundesbahn, the former National Railway:

In the next 5 years, DB will invest about DM7,000 million in new and modern short-distance rolling stock. The entire fleet will be replaced modernized before the end of the century. Three hundred lightweight powered railcars have already been ordered within this program — the largest investment in German railway history. These cars are about 30% lighter than conventional cars. In addition, they are constructed mainly from proven components used in buses. They still cost more than a bus, but are equivalent in terms of maintenance expenses.

These cars are a decisive step to become able to compete with the automobiles and buses on side tracks at low loads. Many side tracks — especially in the new states of the Federation — which were hardly profitable because trains were drawn by locomotives, are enjoying a renaissance. The cars reach an average maximum speed of about 130 km/h and present a real alternative to the automobile.

These modern DMU operations have been wildly successful, and emulated all over Europe. A 2007 paper, published by Dietmar Bosserhof, looks at ridership gains from dozens regional rail projects. The entire paper is worth reading, but here is the money graph:

These ridership numbers are from a regional railway near Frankfurt. As you can see, ridership gains of 10x were achieved with targeted improvements in ticketing, frequency, and rolling stock.

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The Six Million Dollar Train

SMART has received bids from DMU vendors. And as predicted, those bids are way above the market price for DMUs.

So how has SMART staff reported this news to the Board?

The price proposal from SCOA is very favorable to SMART, so much so that it became clear in the evaluation process that its acceptance without further change was in the best interest of SMART…SMART’s estimate for this base order prior to opening of the price proposals was approximately $80 million. The recommended award is for a contract that is about $23 million below the engineer’s estimate.

The lowest bid (Sumitomo Corporation of America) was $56 million for 9 DMU trainsets; i.e. $6 million per trainset. Similar projects in Europe are considerably less expensive, around $3-4 million per trainset. For example, Alstom’s sale of 23 DMU trainsets for $90 million to Hessische Landesbahn GmbH (transit operator in Hesse, Germany). Or this Deutsche-Bahn order of 30 DMUs for $96 million.

Even worse, the Sumitomo bid isn’t for a real train. It exists only on the drawing board. The SMART riders will be the ones to test and debug it.

So how did they get to this point? Answer: the usual reasons…staff specifying custom-designed rolling stock, and refusal to pursue FRA-waiver. The regulatory flaming-hoops-of-fire (FTA Buy-America rules, and FRA/PUC screwiness). Just another example of how American transit riders pay more, and get less.

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Colorado Railcar Not Dead Yet

Colorado Railcar has come out of bankruptcy. American Railcar Industries, a St. Charles, Mo.-based freight car manufacturer owned by investor Carl Icahn, announced a joint venture with Columbus, Ohio-based US Railcar:

US Railcar Company, LLC, the joint venture of US Railcar, LLC and ARI will be led by President & CEO Michael P. Pracht, a rail industry veteran with extensive experience with the world’s leading rail transportation companies. “These are extraordinary times with growth opportunities for passenger rail in the US” said Mr. Pracht. “The US Railcar Company DMU is designed to enable new cost-effective and environmentally friendly passenger rail service across a range of corridors and routes, all with a proven, existing equipment platform already in service.”

The US Railcar Company DMU was prototyped through a demonstration project in 2002 and is currently the only DMU that is fully compliant with Federal Railroad Administration passenger equipment safety regulations as stated in 49 CFR Part 238. This means the US Railcar Company DMU can be quickly pressed into service using existing freight tracks. 1O DMUs are currently providing reliable passenger service in Florida, Alaska and Oregon.

Colorado Railcar US Railcar is a classic example of how FRA/FTA “Buy-America” trade-protection policies foists expensive and unreliable rolling stock on transit agencies. The company’s survival depends on FRA regulation ’49 CFR Part 238′, which carves out special protected status against far superior offerings from foreign firms.

Even worse, US Railcar is seeking out taxpayer bailout.

US Railcar hopes to build a 100,000-square-foot passenger rail car factory in Gahanna that could employ up to 200 workers. But it needs $8.7 million in federal transportation stimulus
dollars for the project. Although Congress doesn’t directly award stimulus funds, It sure doesn’t hurt, does it? Jourdan said of Pracht’s appearances in Washington.

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FRA Caps Speeds

Austin MetroRail DMU

Austin MetroRail DMU

Its new Stadler DMUs are geared for 75mph operation. The line is built to 79mph standards. But the FRA won’t allow Austin Capital MetroRail to run trains faster than 60mph. Why? Because it would be “unsafe”.

Never mind that Stadler trains are run throughout Europe, without any safety issues whatsoever.

In order to get commuters out of their cars and onto transit, customers need to be given time-competitive travel options. If anything, FRA should be facilitating faster speeds, not slower.

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